There’s a lot of instrumental piano music floating about these days; a pseudo-ambient cul-de-sac of a sub-genre drifting along within the wider contemporary classical moment. For composers like Sebastian Plano, this surplus means that to really break through all the background noise they have to offer something genuinely fresh and invigorating. ‘Verve’, unfortunately, does not.
To be fair, the odds are stacked against him. The massive growth of streaming platforms has led to a much wider selection of music being at the listener’s fingertips than ever before, at the expense of physical sales. A Faustian workaround for artists and labels has been to dance to the tune of algorithmically-generated playlists, the new gravitational centre of the online listening experience.
Much of ‘Verve’ sounds exactly like the kind of comfort food that sits so well in these musical echo chambers. As a result, while all is technically accomplished on the surface, there’s an excess of derivative, destination-less harmonic meandering (‘Honesty’, ‘One Step Slower’, ‘Last Day of May’) – all fluff and flutter, a textural overload of close-miked prepared piano and giant, apathetic curtains of reverb. Single ‘Purples’ appears to break away with moments of genuine poignancy, despite straying dangerously close to Nils Frahm’s ‘Says’.
Nothing about this album is distasteful or offensive – it’s just bland. I’d rather listen to objectively bad music made with misfired passion than I would to the kind of distended common musical denominator that Spotify has helped to birth. In the end, it’s difficult to come away from ‘Verve’ without thinking it’s an acquiescent product of a rapidly-changing music landscape.